Recreational Ice Figure Skating/Equipment
If rental skates are available the best path is to go with rentals for at least a half-dozen sessions until you are reasonably sure that you are making progress and intend to keep skating long enough to justify the investment. The only contrary objection would be if the rental skates at your rink are in really horrible shape, in which case you may want to check if the shop or any rink/club bulletin board has used skates for sale. If you find you enjoy skating and you want to do it regularly, it is best to invest on your own equipment.
If you cannot make your mind whether you would like to buy figure or hockey, do not worry too much, as you can learn basic on both types of skates. Once you can do more than skate around in one direction you will find out if you prefer an aggressive style of skating, with lots of quick stops and starts and sharp changes of direction or if you prefer the fluidity of figure skating. If you like jumping or spinning you should definitely get figure skates.
Although in beginner figure skates the boots and blades are often sold as a unit, advanced ones are purchased separately.
Often beginners end up with so much advice that it may feel as it is a life-and-death decision. However, within broad limits, as a beginner it does not matter what boots you have provided that they are comfortable and fit well. They should be snug in the heels and support the ankles to prevent them from caving in. Most important of all though, is that they help you to feel confident. That will help you more than anything else. Provided you are not in pain and are well supported and comfortable, practice and effort will make a far bigger difference than the exact type or brand of boot.
Selecting new boots
Intermediate and advanced boots and blades are sold separately and mounted by the skate shop. Beginner boots may be sold in pre-assembled sets, but avoid those that have the blades riveted to or molded into a plastic sole. For adults, the boots should fit snugly on your feet such that the tips of your toes just brush or can stretch to reach the toe of the boot. Good quality beginner boots are moderately stiff to provide adequate support, and the more advanced boots get progressively stiffer.
The advantage of stiff boots is that they may last many years and provide good support. Their disadvantage is that they have a long and perhaps painful break-in period and they are more expensive. If you buy boots too advanced for your level, you may find them virtually impossible to break in. Lighter boots on the other hand are more comfortable and break in faster. They also wear out faster.
Before choosing boots, here is a checklist of some questions to ask yourself. The boots you buy will depend entirely upon the answers:
- How much do you enjoy skating? Do you feel that in time you will be skating daily or is it something you just want to do once a week or so?
- How long do you envision yourself skating? Do you think you have found a sport that will keep you happily exercising for the next 20 years?
- What are your future expectations?. Many skaters who initially cannot imagine ever doing a three-turn progress farther than they ever imagined. Ask yourself what your dreams are.
If you feel that you could easily end up skating every day, you will probably want to skate for the next 20 years, and in your fantasies you are landing double jumps, then the cost of your boots will in all likelihood be the least expense you have to worry about over the next three years. And a good boot will probably last that long.
Whatever make of skating boots you buy, it is most important that the boots fit properly (your foot should be held firmly by the boot) and show first class workmanship. When trying on boots, wear the same socks/tights that you will skate in. Thick socks are not a good idea as they will allow the foot to move in the skate. The construction of the boot tongue is also important, since a relatively stiff padded tongue will stay in place and keeps the pressure of individual laces injuring your feet. Some tongues have a padded lambs wool lining, but tongues of higher level skates are generally padded with a foam rubber. The foam rubber should be about 3/8 - 1/2 inches thick and fairly stiff with small pores.
It is difficult to relate the size of the boot to your shoe size as this varies from one manufacturer to another. Ask to be measured by a competent vendor. They should have you sit and put a little pressure on the measuring board. Try on the boots before having the blade mounted, and do not hesitate to try others if you are not entirely satisfied with the fit.
Custom fitted boots are usually not necessary for starting skaters unless your feet and ankles are shaped unusually or have been injured, you require extra support for your weight or are skating very frequently.
Breaking in new boots
Wearing brand new boots for the first time can be painful. Here are some tips to help relieve the pain and shorten the process:
- Wear thin socks. Basically, you want the socks to slide against the leather. Thin polyester socks are good in this respect. Skate for short periods at first paying attention to the way your feet feel and stop if there is chafing or irritation. Never ignore discomfort because it can turn into blisters and infection.
- If the top rim of your boots rubs your legs, buy some cloth medical tape and moleskin to protect the irritated areas. Silicon gel ankle sleeves or pads (e.g., Bungapads) are excellent to prevent blisters, lace-bite and protect chafed skin. If the finish of the rim feels rough, it is possible to smooth it by sanding it carefully.
- You can get boots "punched out" or stretched where they are hurting your feet, customizing them to some degree (this leaves marks on the leather which almost disappear in time). Some skate shops can do this.
- Do not lace the boots right to the top at first.
- To make the boots fit the contours of your ankle bones, find a wooden dowel (e.g. broom handle) about the diameter of the projections of your ankle joints and cut two lengths equal to the width across each ankle. Using tape and a marker, mark the location of your ankle bones on each boot (on top of the tape). Then, when not wearing the boots, insert the dowels, lining them up with the marks, and lace the boots up tightly. Similarly, a shoe tree or other solid object placed in the toe will help to relieve pressure on the toes.
- If the boots feel very uncomfortable, you can try to accelerate the break-in process by wetting the leather: For example, putting on wet tights or socks and wearing the boots while not skating, or taking a couple of damp hot hand towels put them in the boots for a few minutes, then remove the towels and wear the boots for a while. However, be aware that wearing the boots while not skating can lead to an incorrect break-in pattern (since you apply most pressure on different points when you are skating than when walking or sitting in the boots).
Boots are expensive and deserve all the care you give them. Be sure to dry the entire sole of your boot off immediately after leaving the ice and do not store them in a closed bag. When not in use, always remove them from the skate bag and leave the skates in the open so that the air can thoroughly dry them, otherwise the leather will start to decay. Scratches and nicks in the boots should be attended to before water penetrates the leather.
Waterproofing should be applied to the entire sole before the blades are mounted, and reapplied periodically. If leather gets wet and cannot dry out, it will start to rot and then will not hold the blade screws. A variety of types of waterproofing are available at skate shops. Here are a few ideas:
- A sole enamel can be used. It comes in black and neutral. Depending on the amount of skating you do, it may need to be reapplied monthly. It will build up and occasionally must be sanded or scraped off, then reapplied.
- A variety of bee wax or similar wax-like products are popular. They are applied then melted in with a hair dryer. Wax must be reapplied more frequently than enamel but is very easy to use. There is no sanding or buildup. After repeated use, the soles may develop a grayish cast.
- Another suggestion is polyurethane varnish thinned down so it soaks into the fresh leather. Applied in many thin coats, it is said to require very little follow-up maintenance.
- Shoe polish is a very effective water proofer but must be used very regularly.
- On white uppers, black streaks can be easily removed with a solvent made for this purpose. Use a buff type liquid polish on white boots. For black boots, use a black liquid or canned shoe polish.
Re-plugging the screw holes
You should periodically check the screws which hold the blades on, especially when the skates are new and make sure they are tight. If a screw is stripped or will not stay tight, water is probably getting inside the screw hole and the leather of the sole itself causing the holes to expand and soften. What you should do is bring your skates to a reputable skate shop and have them take the blades off, sand off the top layer of enamel, re-plug the holes, and re-coat the soles before putting the blades back on. They will put screws in new holes wherever possible. If the soles are really rotted out, then your only option other than replacement is to send them back to the manufacturer to get new soles or buy new boots.
Repeated removal of the screws is undesirable. The threads in the holes will strip after a few remove/mount cycles. Then you will have to use different holes, and if they are all stripped, you need to repair the holes. Although it is best to leave this kind of maintenance to the sharpener, you can plug the hole yourself in an emergency: Take a piece of leather lace and cram it into the hole together with lots of leather or hide glue. If you do not have any leather laces, slice off a little piece of a wooden matchstick, put the matchstick into the hole, and replace the screw.
If the the screw is really rusted or seems rounded off, get a new one. You might have to drill or poke a starter hole for the new screw. In this case it is better to let your skate shop can do the dirty job for you.
Selecting used boots
- The boot must support you, otherwise you will be expending most of your energy just holding your ankles straight. Grasp the boot by the top of the ankle and hold it sideways (parallel to the floor). If it droops, it will not provide you the ankle support you need, so do not buy it.
- Look at the condition of the boot - it should be leather and not some kind of plastic or pseudo leather with a cloth lining. There should be no cracks or tears in the leather, though some creases are fine.
- Your best bet is to check any rinks in your area; see if the skate shop, rink office or pros/instructors have any used boots for sale. If there is a bulletin board or skate club, check any advertisements or advertise that you are looking for size-N skates.
When to replace your boots
There are some relatively objective signs that a boot has worn out or is being used beyond it's limitations and others that are purely subjective or require reference to a coach. Certainly, a skate is finished if the leather in the boot has started to wear out, if there are fissures in the inner lining, rips or tears in the outer boot or a cracked or crumbling sole that does not hold screws.
Judging when a boot no longer offers adequate support is more difficult. If the top flops over of its own accord, it is obvious, but more subtle signs are when the normal creases which afford forward flexibility begin to look like accordion pleats that go all the way around the skate; this a sign that the boot is free to flex sideways at the ankle.
Some more subjective signs are the feeling that you need to tighten the laces more to make things work, even though they are still tight, or the feeling that your foot is free to slide around in the skate, or your heel lifts even when the laces are tight. You might also feel that you are having trouble keeping your ankles erect or holding clean edges on tight edges, turns, spins or jump landings.
On the final front, your coach/instructor may make observations that your boots are not doing their job or suggest that it is time to upgrade. This may be based on close observation or rule-of-thumb. Asking your instructor is always a good idea, while talking with other skaters can either be helpful or lead to a lot of confusion.
Keep in mind that boot requirements are highly relative. Given the model of boot that you have and the amount of wear you have put on them, they may be entirely adequate for what you are doing, or they may be an obstacle to further progress. A recommendation on buying new skates might differ depending on whether you are skating recreationally and just interested in picking up some jumps, or planning to go to multi-rotational jumps as quickly as possible to get into serious competition. Also, the recommendation for a petite woman would be different from that for or a mid-sized or larger man.
Getting your skates laced properly will enhance your balance and control and make your skates more comfortable.
- First, loosen the laces completely and position your foot when lacing; do not just step in the skate and lace it up, but set your heel firmly in the rear when tightening the eyelet area up.
- Second, you do not have to lace all areas equally tightly. Put in overhand twists (like the first step of tying the bow) at strategic places to keep the laces from "evening out". Remove the slack through the first 3 or 4 holes but do not tighten too much or you will stop blood circulation to your feet.
- Tie a twist (optional), then lace tightly for the rest of the holes to hold your ankle firm. At the top of the holes tie a double twist, and cross-lace the hooks (that is, lace them so they are crossed at the hooks). For the last two hooks, lace fairly loosely so you can bend your ankle.
- When breaking in new skates, you can leave the top hooks unlaced and skip the top hole to make them more comfortable and start a crease in the leather at the ankle.
Preventing lace bite
Lace bite arises from pressure of the laces over the extensor hallucis tendon, which runs from the front of the lower leg to the base of the big toe. Lace bite can result in the appearance of cysts and bumps and, in the long term, the development of tendinitis. Silicon sleeves or pads applied over the tendon are very effective to prevent or alleviate the problem. If you start experiencing this problem as the boots age, you can also get the boot tongue rebuilt by the boot manufacturer.
Skates for children
Every parent has had the experience with buying shoes or other clothing for a growing child and having them no longer fit after only a few weeks due to a growth spurt. Unfortunately, feet grow erratically, and the growth is not always accompanied by an increase in height. You must avoid buying children's skates too loose, they will interfere with the skating and may actually be dangerous because of lack of support. They may also repeatedly raise blisters. On the other hand, if they become too small and have your skater continue to skate in them, either the child will quit, or the skating will suffer, or the feet will suffer, perhaps permanently.
To check the fit of the skates your child has now, ask her or him to put their skates on loose and push their foot right to the front of the boot. If you can put an index finger between his heel and the back of the boot, he has enough room to grow. When he skates, check to see if his skates are perfectly upright.
The only way to lessen the economic impact of keeping children's feet in skates that fit is to buy used skates on consignment, or at skate swaps, and to sell your outgrown skates as well. Used children's skates are very available and usually in far better shape than used adult skates. Get the children's coach to help you select them.
You can buy gender neutral brown boots if you plan to have the skates passed on from girl to boy or vice-versa.
New designs for figure skating boots
Despite a more rigid construction to withstand repeated jumping and a gradual introduction of new materials to make the boot lighter, the figure skating boot design has not changed radically for over a century. Several causes are mentioned:
- Leather gradually molds to the foot and the combination of suppleness and rigidity helps acquire the fine control of the skate required for complex footwork
- Traditional figure skating boots conform to the sport aesthetics. Imagine how a pretty sequined dress with go with metal buckled shiny x-treme plastic boot...
- When asked for advice about equipment, coaches and experienced skaters tend to suggest established "tried and tested". Few are willing to try anything new that does not provide an obvious and immediate advantage.
A recent development that is enjoying certain popularity is a boot with a hinge at the ankle, allowing a larger motion range that the traditional boot. The design allows skaters to point their toes further down during a jump and absorb a greater part of the impact with the toe-pick, decreasing the load by an estimated 20-30% on the knees, hips and lower back.
Although hinged boots have been developed for freestylers, ice dancers mention that they create a more attractive line than the traditional boot when the free foot is pointed; note that because the ankle piece has a rubber edge that has to stretch as the foot is pointed, it requires strong calves to achieve maximum extension.
It has been suggested that the ankle hinge might require a technique readjustment on the part of the skater, because the increased motion range at the angle may affect weight shifting to different parts of the blade during footwork. On the other hand, an adaptation period is usually the norm when changing to new skates.
Blades are commonly made in 1/4 inch lengths. Blades also have different widths as well as different configurations of the "rocker" (spinning area) and toe picks. These all have major effects on the way a blade feels, although usually a skater can adapt to a different type of blade in a relatively short amount of time.
Figure skate blades start out in three separate parts: The toe plate, the heel plate, and the part that actually does the work on the ice. These are punched out on large presses. The blades are blanked out of long strips of steel which vary in carbon content depending on the quality of the particular skate blade that is being made; for example, a recreational blade will have a lower grade of steel than a more advanced blade. Although the steel used for all blades hardens to the same standard, the better grade would keep its edge longer in similar conditions.
Before the three parts are put together to make the skate the blade section is hardened. This is done in large quantities hung on a frame and lowered into a high temperature salt bath for a set period of time to be evenly heated and while still glowing red are quenched in an oil bath. The shock of the sudden decrease in temperature causes the steel to harden . However, the hardness at this stage is too brittle, so the blades (still on the frame) are put into another salt bath of a lower temperature to temper to about what is called 60 degrees on the Rockwell scale. When cooled they are removed from the frames fed into a machine that grinds them to a set thickness.
The toe and heel plates (already ground) are then brazed to the blade. There are two methods of joining the parts together. Many blades are silver soldered. This is a fairly low temperature braze achieved by electrical coil induction which causes the heat from the brazing to travel down onto the blade reducing the hardness to about 40 degrees Rockwell for about half way down the blade but leaving the lower "working" half (about 5/16") still at 60 degrees. Some top quality blades are hand brazed with bronze. This operation creates a lot more heat; therefore the blades could be somewhat irregular in their hardness. To remedy this, they are set into an induction coil, electrically heated, re-hardened and tempered about halfway up the blade.
It is possible to tell if your blades are hand brazed. If you look at them you will notice that where the toe and heel plate joins the blade there is a very large radius. This method is very strong. Silver soldered skates will have a small bead of braze so the radius will be much smaller. However silver solder flows well and fills gaps readily. So, whichever method is used there will still be 5/16" or more of correct hardness.
After the blade is assembled and chrome-plated (to protect the metal from rust), the profile at the bottom of the blade is ground on and the chrome is removed from the edges by grinding, so that hardened steel and not chrome is at the working surface. This is the line that you see on each side of the blade edge. There is of course extensive polishing and inspection before shipping.
Buying new blades
The blade length denotes the measurement from the front of the sole plate to the back of the heel plate. Measure the length of the boot sole from toe to heel and fit blades which are 1/4 inch less in length.
When it comes to buying blades, the same advice given for purchasing new boots applies: you should buy well-built and equipment appropriate to your level. Skaters gradually upgrade their equipment as their needs change, for example a skater may need to upgrade skates when they move from basic skating to their first jumps or from double to triple jumps.
Top of the line blades are designed for very good skaters. Advanced free-style blades have a longer radius and have large toe picks. Also, the portion of the blade that is used for spinning is smaller than on intermediate blades; that means that unless you are perfectly balanced and positioned going into and during the spin you will start rocking on the blade.
Just because the MK Gold Stars are very expensive does not mean that they are inherently better blades than MK Pros or Phantoms. Starting with MK Pro and Coronation Ace lines, the blades are all made using much the same materials and manufacturing process, as described above. To put it succinctly, certain blades are more expensive simply because of supply and demand and a few slight design modifications like side honing, or coating with metals other than chrome which makes them more costly to produce.
Three ways of checking used blades
- The best way to determine the wear on blades is looking at how thick the dull strip is on the sides of the blades along the edges. These strips were three or four millimeters when new. If they are now thin, then your blade has been sharpened many times. The concern here is that the rocker may be distorted after many sharpenings, and it is almost impossible to restore without specialized equipment.
- A second test consists in holding the skate upright on a table and rocking it forwards until the lowest toepick makes contact with the surface. The blade should also be touching the table within one or two inches of the toe pick. If the blade touches the table further back, it means that the toe-pick is too low (probably a consequence of successive sharpenings). If the blades touches closer than 1 inch, the master toe-pick may have been ground off. In this case, the blades will be useless for learning spins and jumps.
- The third test is to ask the skate sharpener at your rink to examine the blade. They can tell you if the blade is bent, incorrectly mounted or obviously damaged by abuse or bad sharpening.
If the only problem is that the toe pick is too low, ask your shop to grind it somewhat to raise it. Never have the bottom (master) tooth ground off your blades unless you only intend to use them for figures!
Mounting the blades
Skates with improperly mounted blades can be virtually impossible to skate on. The blade must be correctly positioned and aligned on the boot. To avoid twisting the blade, the boot heel and sole contours must match the blade mounting surfaces. If not, the surfaces can be trimmed with a rasp, or shims can be added between the blade and boot. Briefly, this is how your skate shop will mount the blades:
- Find the center of the tip of the sole and the center of the heel and draw a line joining them.
- Place the front of the sole plate of the skate blade in line of the front of the sole of the boot, and maintain the skate blade along the line drawn. This will place the blade between the big toe and first toe.
- Screws may be placed only in the slotted holes, so that you can try them and make minor adjustments (a blade position slightly closer to the big toe is sometimes favored). Do not do a lot of jumping on the blade until the best position of the blades has been found and more screws have been inserted.
Warping of the blade can happen when the front or back pair of screws are tightened on the temporary mounts, skewing the blade from front to back, or if the holes for the permanent mounts are not positioned perfectly.
Another likely cause is that the heel might not be perfectly level or flat with respect to the front of the boot: On old boots, old screw-holes may have created bumps on the heel. If the boots are new, they might have been manufactured with an uneven heel. Such a heel will twist the blade.
Checking for mounting problems
If you have trouble getting good edges, first have the blades checked to make sure they are straight, properly sharpened and mounted perpendicular to the sole. If the problem persists, have someone watch to see if your blades "make snow" as you try to skate on the edge in question. If they do, this may point to a mounting problem which can be corrected by a slight shift of the blade mounting. You will need to tell the person remounting your blades which edges you are having trouble with.
You can also check if your blades are mounted correctly by yourself (you need recently sharpened blades for this test to ensure that the edges are even):
- Find a clean patch of ice
- Gather some speed and glide on two feet on a straight line.
- Keep your body upright. Your feet should be directly under your hips. Try this several times, both backwards and forwards
- Go back and look at the the traces: if the blades are set correctly you should get a set of double lines for each foot. If one of the lines is consistently thicker than its mate, or if there is only one line, it means that your weight on that blade falls predominantly on the edge tracing that line,i.e., the blade is unbalanced.
- If you are leaning mainly on the inside edge, have the blade shifted to the inside and vice versa. You probably only need a small shift; try moving it by 1 or 2mm and then repeat the test
Rocker is the curve of the blade from toe to heel, and is based on the arc of a circle with a given radius. Thus, if you drew a circle with a 7 foot radius and placed a blade with a 7 foot rocker along the inside curve of the circle, it would line up with the tracing, at least at the rear (tail) of the blade. The curve at the front, behind the toe pick is somewhat sharper. It is this difference of curvature which allows you to turn and spin on the front of the blade.
- The smaller the radius, the more rocker (amount of back and forth rocking motion you can get when standing on the blade) it has. With small radius blades, you can do turns with less chance of falling as there is less blade on the ice. For the beginner, a 6 foot radius is fine as, among other things, it is very forgiving in the toe pick department: You really need to lean way forward on them to catch the picks.
- The bigger the radius, the flatter the blade. This will generate more speed as more of the blade contacts the ice. You will want a flatter blade (7 foot or more) as you become more advanced. When you start learning jumps, you will find that you need good edge control. Because you have more blade on the ice, you can start to prepare your body position for take-off without falling off the edge so easily.
Grind or hollow
Hollow or grind refers to the concave surface on the bottom of a correctly ground blade. A small radius creates edges that will dig deeply into the ice, while a larger radius digs in less, but glides more freely. A hollow with a 5/8" to 3/4" radius is recommended for beginners and all-purpose skates. This hollow will allow you to sense how a proper edge should feel, and at the same time be forgiving in things like T-stops. The weight of the skater will also affect how deeply it should be ground: Usually children will need a deeper hollow than fully grown adults.
Finally, the width of the blade is yet another factor to consider: A deep hollow with a 3/8" or smaller radius will be very unforgiving on freestyle blades, unless you are a child or have a very petite frame. This type of grind may yields crisp and fast 3-turns, ability to hold a very deep edge when landing jumps, and allows for fast spins if they are well centered. A small radius is favored for dance or hockey blades; these types of blades blades are narrower than freestyle blades and they need a deeper grind to get the same grip on the ice.
A shallow "figure" hollow with a 1" or larger radius will require a more correct lean to prevent skidding and requires more frequent sharpening, but yields an easy glide and clean tracings.
Advanced blade features
The K-pick design consists in a set of extra 3-4 picks to the side of the standard toe-picks. This feature is supposed to provide more control and better anchorage to the ice on toe-jumps. According to blade manufactures, the jump height can increase by 5-10% and the jump length by about 20% on toe loops and flips. No significant improvements in height and length have been reported for the Lutz, although the improved stability on the take-off supposedly makes for more consistent jumps. Many freestyle blades models, particularly at the high end range, are available with K-picks.
Side honed, parabolic and tapered blades
Most skating blades have the same constant width along its full length. However, some advanced freestyle figure skating blades have a concave section known as "side honing". Side honed blades are thicker at the stanchions and the edge stripe and thinner in between. You can tell side honed blades because reflections appear inverted.
Another modification to the edge profile found in advanced blades is "tapering". Tapered blades are thicker at the front near the toepicks and thinner at the tail, i.e. the edges are not parallel. Parabolic blades are thinner in the middle section and thicker at both ends. Some models or custom made blades can be both side-honed and tapered. These modifications make the blade lighter (because of the removed steel) and supposedly provide a better grip on the ice. Not surprisingly, the more laborious manufacturing process translates in a higher price. Whether they actually provide any real significant advantage is a matter of discussion.
Take your skates to a pro shop or ask some regular skaters at your rink where they get theirs sharpened. Skate sharpening is not a do-it-yourself project! Skates are expensive and it only takes one bad sharpening to turn them into scrap metal!
Skates properly sharpened will have a smooth concave grind accurately centered along the length of the blades, edges squared (parallel to the bottom of the boot) and level with each other (inside edge at same height as outside edge) for the length of the blade. Proper sharpening will maintain the correct rocker for the life of the blade.
- Freestyle sharpenings will have typically a 1/2" radius concave grind and will be in a sharp condition. The edges of a deep freestyle grind have the great advantage of holding jump landings on hard or soft ice and also will outlast a shallow grind by a considerable amount of time. They will also hold landings on missed jumps and give the skater that extra split second to catch their balance and avoid unnecessary falls. A sharp deep grind takes a little effort on the part of the skater to adapt but is well worth the effort and once adapted to it will be no problem after future sharpenings.
- Figure sharpenings will have 1 1/4" radius concave grind and will be in a medium sharp condition. The figure grinds are extremely smooth and flow freely on the ice. More shallow (greater radius) grinds have extreme flow on the ice but are usually suitable only for the more advanced skater, since it is hard to hold an edge without the proper lean.
- Combination sharpenings will have 3/4" radius concave grind and will be in a medium sharp condition so that the skater can skate
figures with ease or they can be used for general skating. The grind will be of smooth finish and will flow quite freely on the figures (although not as freely as a true figure grind). This grind can be used for all jumps and spins and will hold well while blades are in a sharp condition. This grind is also very suitable for occasional skaters and some dancers; and is also good for adults to start with.
Skates should be resharpened before they become so dull that you begin to slip on hard ice. This will also minimize the adjustment you need to make to your newly sharpened skates. Nicks in the blades should also be attended to. Bad nicks in the edges will ruin the finest sharpenings.
When the blade is ground down a long way after many sharpenings, the relationship between the bottom pick and the blade edge should be maintained by removal of steel from the pick. There should be about 1/2" lift at the heel before the pick makes contact with the ice. Just because your blades are ground down past the line of chrome plating, that is not an indication that you need new ones. There is still lots of life left as long as the sharpener replaces that "line" and adjusts the pick height.
Beware of how some shops do their sharpening: Some shops flat-grind the blade first, and then hollow grind. This wears the blade at an accelerated rate.
There are two kinds of blade covers, hard rubber/plastic guards and terry-cloth "soakers". The plastic guards should be worn any time you step off the ice. Even rubber mats or carpets accumulate dirt and grit from the shoes of pedestrians, and this grit will nick and round off the fine edges of your blades much faster than gliding across the ice. Do not leave the guards on your skates between sessions as they will trap water and cause your blades to rust.
The cloth soakers are put on after you have removed your skates and wiped them dry with a rag. They protect your blades from bumping in transit and wick away any condensation so your blades will not rust. If you still have problems with rust or want to store your skates for a longer time, rub a drop of oil or Vaseline along the bottoms of the blades.